Sunday, December 01, 2013

Saturday Night's More Than Alright for Seeing Sir Elton John -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Elton John
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
November 30, 2013

For virtually the entirety of Elton John's 160-minute performance Saturday night at Allstate Arena, I saw just the back of Sir Elton's head (and his sparkly Captain Fantastic jacket).

But this was alright, for not only did a video screen help with some front views, not only did my $29 (+ Ticketmaster fees) "side view" ticket equate to less money per song than one would spend on iTunes--he played 28 if counting "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding" separately; here's the full setlist--but there's nowhere one would rather see Elton John than hunched over his piano, pumping out classic after classic.

With the living legend in fine voice and good spirits, the opening couplet of "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" was followed by the remainder of "the first side of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road": "Bennie and the Jets," "Candle in the Wind" and "Gray Seal."

Sir Elton and his crack band--including Nigel Olsson, his drummer since 1969, and longtime guitarist Davey Johnstone--would subsequently give us stellar versions of "Levon," "Tiny Dancer," "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and "Philadelphia Freedom"...and that was just in the first hour.

Several other old hits would follow, as well as two tasteful songs from Elton's latest album, The Diving Board.

Along with two great friends and a sold out crowd, singing along with "Rocket Man," "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," "I'm Still Standing," "The Bitch is Back," "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," "Your Song" and the falsetto la-la-las on the closing "Crocodile Rock" was a ton of fun, and made for about as good an Elton John show one could want, certainly circa 2013 but not just.

But being me, I have one minor quibble that keeps this from being a full @@@@@ review.

There's no denying that Elton is a great showman, who knows how to put on a crowd-pleasing show. And having also become a highly successful Broadway composer over the past 2 decades--not to mention a Vegas act--perhaps the former Reginald Dwight finds comfort in theatrical regimentation.

But along with great songs aplenty, I prefer a bit of spontaneity and a sense that the show I'm seeing in Chicago is somehow a bit different than the one delivered in Detroit, St. Paul and Atlanta (a few recent tour stops that got the exact same setlist from Elton).

I recognize that beyond personal favorites Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, as well as jam bands like Phish, few concert acts seem comfortable switching up their setlist night after night. And while I appreciate Tribune critic Greg Kot's suggestion that it would be cool seeing Elton playing deeper cuts in an intimate venue, I don't know his early run of classic albums through and through (though I'm getting there), so I can't say this would be my preference.

Plus, on Saturday night Sir Elton did sprinkle in catalog cuts like "All the Young Girls Love Alice," "Holiday Inn," "Hey Ahab" and "Believe."

So I have no beef with the setlist we got in Rosemont, I just felt that Elton would be better served to go "off script" at times, perhaps playing something here that he didn't elsewhere, or telling some stories expounding on his comments about loving Chicago.

For the past 3 times I had seen Elton John, it was on his his Face2Face Piano Men tours with Billy Joel (and the time before that was on a double bill with Eric Clapton at Dodger Stadium). And as good as Elton always was, Billy was consistently a bit better because he was more fun and engaging.

And it's not like Elton didn't leave out a number of great songs that he could occasionally sprinkle in: "Daniel," "Honky Cat," "Take Me to the Pilot," "I Need You To Turn To," etc., etc.

Also, with Rose Stone (of Sly & the Family Stone) and her daughter Lisa being among Elton's backup singers, there's no reason not to do a romp through "Everyday People," "Dance to the Music" or "Stand."

As I said above, a minor quibble that did little to diminish the joy derived from seeing one of rock's greatest performers still at the peak of his concert powers. But just enough to keep a terrific show from going over-the-top into truly transcendent territory.

Here's a video of "Rocket Man" posted to YouTube (expect many more to pop up) by someone named Sojasey1, who had a head-on side-stage vantage point across from where I was. 


madmike said...


I saw Elton for the first time in Detroit. My comments posted on Facebook were as follows:

I give Sir Elton a "C" at best for his concert. I thought the sound was poor and that his concert lacked the type of energy I would expect from someone of his caliber. Also his standing, turning and bowing and pointing to the crowd after each song was as if to say. "Yes, there you go, another classic from me - Sir Elton." Pleeze, really? The Flletwood Mac concert I attended back in June was far better and more entertaining than EJ. And Paul McCartney a couple of years ago at Comerica Park, detroit was 10 times better.

Anonymous said...

I saw the Chicago Elton John concert with my two sisters and my older brother who introduced his siblings to EJ back in the day. I thought this was a pretty darn good show overall. Like madmike I thought the standing and bowing after almost every song got a bit old but I guess that is what gives Elton enough breaks to make it thru the entire set without a break. I could also have done without the extended versions of some of the songs as I tend to like my concert songs played as close to the original recording as possible.
But Elton did play a very satisfying number of hits. We did miss Daniel and some other favorites but that is what happens at most concert especially with bands that have been so successful of a long period of time.